April 30, 2005

Well, we’ve been here at Kavieng for almost a week now and things are going very well. Kavieng, for those who don’t know, is the main town on the island of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago, a group of island to the East of the main part of Papua New Guinea and a part of that nation. PNG is a highly populated country of 4,200,000 people. New Ireland (which is over 180 miles long although only 10-15 miles wide in most places) has over 100,000 people. Kavieng itself, however, seems to have only about 8 or 9,000 people.

The people are mostly Melanesians, like Vanuatans and Solomon Islanders, and are quite dark of skin with wiry hair. In fact, the word Papuan (from the Malay language) is the word for “fuzzy hair”. How they got the name of the country is very interesting. The Northern parts of PNG were occupied and governed by Germany before up until WWI and they named it New Guinea because of the perceived resemblance to Guinea in Africa. The Dutch (who had much experience with Indonesia and hence the Malay language) took over the Southern parts and named it Papua. When the two parts of the country were joined eventually they similarly joined the two names and thus Papua New Guinea was born.

The people here have been very friendly to us so far and we have found them to be very helpful whenever we ask questions, though many do not speak much if any English, even though that is the nation’s official language. The people of PNG speak over 770 languages. The dense jungles and deep mountain valleys of the interior of most areas of PNG has led them to develop a diverse number of languages. Before European occupation and influence neighboring villages only a few miles apart were either at war with each other or did not even know of each other’s existence. People of the highland valleys never ventured down to the coastal plains and vise versa. A type of Pidgin English is also spoken widely, as in Vanuatu, and most people speak this as well as their native language. But it is not difficult to find someone who can speak real English, especially in stores (stoa in pidgin) and of course banks and government offices.

Our main goals here in Kavieng are reprovisioning. We arrived very low on most supplies and have so far stocked up nicely on a wide variety of goods. Though the selection is not great in the local stores, we have been able to find all of the necessary food items we require; rice, flour, sugar, pasta, pasta sauce – a key item for us – canned tomatoes, and meats which are imported from Australia. We also need diesel fuel which we plan to take on this coming Monday and gasoline (we only carry about 15-20 gallons so that will not be a major effort) and LPG (cooking gas) which is a little more difficult since most people simply exchange empty bottles for full ones at the local gas depot. Our gas bottles are a unique and specific size which fits in our LPG locker and we must have them refilled.

Today, Saturday, is the big market day at the public produce market. As New Ireland is a large and fertile island, much vegetables are grown here, but not in our near Kavieng itself. On Saturday mornings, farmers from the surrounding areas truck their produce here to the market for sale. From what we have heard we can expect to find green beans, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes and of course tropical fruits like mangos, papayas and bananas. It is now 6:15am as I write this and we will be off to the market in about 15 minutes.

Time warp – it is now 7:30am and I have just returned from the market. Kate is cleaning the bounty of vegetables and fruits I have returned with. The market was incredible. Without doubt the best produce market we have seen in years, perhaps better even then the best one we have seen at Apia, Samoa in 2001. The diversity and quantity of produce was incredible. In addition to the items I mention in the above paragraph (all of which were indeed present with the exception of tomatoes, unless you count cherry tomatoes which were present) I found corn, oranges, lemons, carrots and pineapples! Believe it or not, pineapples are not common in most Pacific island nations. Except for Samoa, Fiji and Tahiti we have searched in vain for pineapples everywhere we have been. As for the corn, we have never seen corn anywhere in the Pacific (not counting New Zealand and Australia of course).

There were also a huge variety of greens I have never seen before and cabbage in abundance. There may have also been lettuce though I did not get close enough to determine if it indeed was lettuce and not just a light colored cabbage. And of course there were several varieties of yams, sweet potatoes and white potatoes which I did purchase, though they were not of the normal shape we would expect – they were shaped more like parsnips with a pointy tip at one end. I asked a woman who was shopping nearby (who spoke English – none of the vendors, all of whom are farmers from the distant hinterland of the island spoke not a word of English) and she confirmed they were potatoes and that they are quite good.

That’s about it for now. This morning we have an appointment with the fellow who runs the Agriculture and Quarantine office (they inspect incoming cargos for pests and bugs and as all arriving vessels must do we had to check with him when we arrived). He is a very friendly guy and we chatted quite a bit when I met with him. I noticed a computer in his office and he told me the printer is not working and I offered to look at it for him, so we will meet in his office at 10am this morning. He then offered to take us all to see a place called the Tree House, a resort run by a Kiwi that features rooms and a restaurant all built in a tree. When I described this to Jonah he was (as expected) especially excited to see it.